Jo Osborn, head of communications, South East Water Customers, Domestic water retail, Energy retail, Policy & regulation, Strategy & management, Water, Opinion, South East Water

Customers who take time to contact their water company are rare, and they must be listened to.

On average households spend around nine minutes a year* thinking about their utilities – that’s not long to make an impression, good or bad. If part of those nine minutes is spent contacting their water company because they are frustrated with the service, when this is handled well we can use that contact to turn an angry customer into an advocate.

It’s human nature to want to be listened to and have conversations. We must take the time to listen to our customers, but then go further, give them feedback and talk about what we do. This is when a relationship develops and we can work together for mutual goals.

At South East Water, we are conscious that the customers who take the time to contact us are a tiny proportion of our community, so we’ve taken an approach that makes sure we are hearing from the silent majority too.

That’s why, along with a wide range of customer engagement activities across the business, every month we randomly call approximately 130 customers asking them how satisfied they are with the service we provide, from the taste and appearance of their water, through to our leakage levels and frequency of supply interruptions – all priorities customers tell us matter to them.

Ofwat’s SIM replacement is developing a similar approach, one that takes the water industry beyond measuring customer contacts and puts the satisfaction of every customer at the heart of what we do.

Our experience with our satisfaction outcomes has shown real benefits from the interaction, which is helping South East Water learn more about our customers: what they regard as excellent service, where they think we can improve and how we can work together to secure water services for the future.

*Source: Accenture report – re-energising the new energy consumer, three ways utilities can ignite customers in the digital age

Jo Osborn will be speaking at the Utility Week Water Customer Conference on 17 January in Birmingham.

What to read next